Some trips seem incredible from day one, others need time, and only after a while, you start to really value them. Hawaii falls in the second category. After I got home and I spent some time to think through all the experiences we had there, all of a sudden, I knew: I had fallen in love with the island of Oahu.
Few places have so much diversity as Hawaii has: beaches, mountains, small rural towns, museums, pineapple, coffee or macadamia nuts plantations. I fell in love with this tropical island, its nature, people, way of life, the welcoming aloha spirit, and I can’t wait to revisit Oahu.
But two things were really challenging: deciding what to see and do in a short amount of time while trying to escape the crowds of people (since August is high season and the island was packed with tourists.)
Even so, traveling to Oahu was especially memorable. Here are my top 10 experiences in Oahu, Hawaii, and maybe they’ll get you inspired to add Oahu on your list!
Discovering powdery white sand beaches on Oahu’s Winward Side
Winward Side (the name comes from the strong winds hitting the land) is Oahu’s east coast and to me has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve visited on the island.
With turquoise waters and powdery-white sand, surrounded by lush vegetation, these beaches are an authentic taste of an island paradise.
We found Waimanalo Beach by driving along the coast (about 45 minutes from Waikiki) and once we got there, we were surprised to see that we had the beach almost to ourselves. The ocean is relatively calm, and that makes Waimanalo a good spot for swimming (unlike other nearby beaches where rip currents are too strong).
I was stung by a jellyfish on this beach (the Portuguese Man-of-War that can be widely found on the east coast), but even so, Waimanalo is number one in my Oahu’s top beaches.
Seeing the most breathtaking sunset ever
Was at Sunset Beach. Located on the north side of Oahu, Sunset Beach is one of the beaches renowned for the surf competitions that take place here every winter. From October until March, this is the land of “monster waves,” and only the most experienced surfers hit the water.
The afternoon, when we arrived at Sunset Beach, was a bit cloudy, and after a short drizzle, we got the chance to see a beautiful double rainbow. But the most amazing part was yet to come. The sun going down into the ocean, and the dusk falling on the beach, covering everything in unreal colors, was one of the best experience we had. And definitely to me, there was the most breathtaking sunset.
Tasting traditional Hawaiian dishes
Many times I plan my itinerary in a new place around food because I want to taste as much as I can from the local cuisine. Before going to Oahu, I had a long list of dishes I wanted to try on, but somehow I had some doubts about them. I knew about all the Japanese influences, and since the Japanese food wasn’t one of my favorites, I didn’t have high hopes.
But only a few days later, I was crazy about Poke Bowls (which turned to be my favorite food on Oahu) with raw fish, rice and spicy sauce, Spam Musubi, Lomilomi Salmon, Kalua Pig, Tropical Bowls, and Halupia Pie. That being said, I think to me, Hawaii was the biggest surprise in terms of food.
Riding a wave. Yes, I did that!
There’s no spot more legendary for surf culture than Hawaii. But I always preferred to stay on the beach and just watch the surfers doing their job and being fabulous. Until one morning, when I felt brave enough, and I decided to take my first surf lesson. And the thing I feared the most came in the end as my dearest experience from Hawaii.
Oahu is full of surf spots, and on many beaches, you will find schools with teachers willing to teach you the surf basics. Waikiki Beach is maybe the best-known surf place for beginners, and I’ll always remember this place as the beach where I rode my first wave!
Feeling the rain in a bamboo forest
There’s no doubt, Hawaii has one of the most amazing beaches in the world. But still, there’s more to these iconic islands than that. In Oahu, if you head inland, you’ll discover lush tropical rain forests, with entirely different microclimates.
On our way to Manoa Falls (one of the most popular trails in Oahu – and this could be a bad thing sometimes because of the crowds of people), we were caught in the rain in the middle of the bamboo forest. Just listening to the rain and thunder sounds in this Polynesian paradise felt actually like the best part of the trail.
Watching the evening settling over Waikiki
Waikiki is a hot spot for travelers. It attracts large crowds of tourists year-round so definitely it is not the kind of place to enjoy your Hawaiian paradise alone. But maybe sometimes it’s not so bad to avoid at any cost all the touristy areas. Immersing yourself into the crowds of Waikiki makes for a classic Hawaiian experience.
At sunset, when the colors blend beautifully in the sky, creating a magic effect, with the balmy breeze blowing through my hair, I discovered another face of Waikiki, one that I truly liked. During my trips, I realized that some places are better to explore alone, and some places are more beautiful to explore with others. For me, Waikiki for sure falls into the second category.
And another strong point for spending an evening in Waikiki: the Mai Tais on the beach from Duke’s Waikiki. Such a perfect ending for a beautiful evening!
Walking down the history lane
Iolani Palace celebrates Hawaii’s royal heritage, and it is the only palace that housed royalty in the US. We did the self-guided tour, and we got a glimpse of the rich historical past of these beautiful islands. Again, it’s amazing how a place so geographically isolated as Hawaii Islands are, has so much to offer – not only stunning beaches, surf, and verdant nature, but also amazingly well preserved cultural traditions and historical heritage.
Discovering a flowers paradise
With its subtropical climate, Hawaii is a paradise of flowers. Yellow Hibiscus – Hawaii’s official state flower, Plumerias (white, pink, red or yellow), Bird of Paradise, Ginger Flower are only some of the most spectacular blooms you can smell here.
Foster Botanical Garden, one of the many botanical gardens on the island, is a green oasis near Honolulu, filled with tropical trees and plants. I’ve never seen so many beautiful plumerias in a single place.
I didn’t know Hawaiian coffee is so good!
Hawaii is the only US state to grow coffee. Kona Coffee, their most beloved brand, is amongst the most expensive brands of coffee in the world. With a rich and delicate flavor, Kona coffee was such a big surprise.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
One of the best ways to see Honolulu’s city lights and the Friday night fireworks from the Hilton Hawaiian Village is to reserve a cruise at one of many vessels offering dinner or cocktail cruises in Oahu. Most dinner cruise excursions also feature entertainment and hula dance shows.
Have you been to Oahu? I’d love to know what your favorite experiences are!
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